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Pay-to-Play Concerns Dominate Public Hearing on Budget

A number of Tolland residents expressed frustration with pay-to-play athletics at the public hearing on the budget on Wednesday night.

Concerns over the schools' pay-to-play athletic programs commanded much of the conversation at the town manager's public hearing on the budget Wednesday night, held at

High school track coach Corey Bernier began the conversation, stressing that proposed fees of $325 and $225 per sport at the high school and middle school would be detrimental to the sports program, students and their families.

"Somebody paid for you to come to school. Things need to change because this is an unfair burden put on these families," he said, adding that there is no cap for families with multiple students or those who play more than one sport.

Tolland High School senior and athlete Emily Howard also spoke out against the rising costs of sports participation. 

"The one thing I can do in this town is participate in school clubs. To think after raising it to $325 that many students won't be able to have that experience that I had is upsetting to me," she said.

Another student also presented a petition with 525 signatures protesting the proposed rates.

After many residents expressed frustration with the program, Town Manager Steven Werbner suggested that the participants also share their concerns at a school board meeting. He said that while the town council dictates how much money the schools receive in the budget before it goes to referendum, the council has no ability to state how that money should be spent.

School board Vice-Chairperson Robert Pagoni also addressed the concerns, welcoming all residents to school board meetings and encouraging them to come with questions and any money-saving suggestions they may have. Pagoni also stressed that all of the money raised from pay-to-play fees is used to fund the sports programs.

Members of the Tolland Public Library Foundation and library advisory board also commented at the hearing, asking the council to reconsider a proposed reduction of library hours and a cut of nearly $5,000 to the library's books and materials budget.

"Library director Barbara Pettijohn will be dropping two series of reference books and a magazine database," said library advisory board member Susan Simons. "This is the wrong time to diminish the library and the public's access to it. In an economic downturn, families can save money on reading materials by checking them out for free at the library."

Simons and Tolland Public Library Foundation members also mentioned that restricting library hours will make it more difficult for the library to hold useful programming for citizens, which they said has been well attended. They added that the recommended budget calls for the library to close an hour early for two nights a week to save expenses.

Before the comments, Werbner also , explaining how he came to his present recommendation, which he said aims to preserve services while taking into account the town's limited revenue increases.

"The impact of a higher budget, in my opinion, is the inability to have any chance of a unified budget and would leave the ultimate level of funding to a prolonged series of budget referendums and to be lower will impact services on both the town and BOE at levels which I think most residents would find unacceptable," he said.

And while residents voiced their concerns, many also thanked the council, school board and town staff for their hard work and collaboration during such a demanding process.

The town council will hold a special meeting Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at town hall.

The town manager's recommended 2012-2013 budget is available in full on the town's website. The  (as opposed to the town manager's 3 percent) is on the school district's website.

For previous budget coverage and upcoming budget dates, check out .

Donna Allegro March 29, 2012 at 01:17 PM
Maybe my Math skills are fuzzy but according to the Board of Ed website we had 3151 students enrolled in 2009-2010. The projection for next year is 2887 - a drop of 264 students! At the stated cost of $11000 to educate a child in Tolland, that alone is a savings of $2,904,000. Not counting the 3% and now with the "found" monies probably more like a 4+% increase. Seems to me, with that drop in enrollment, pay to play should at least remain at this years level. What confuses me is that Mr. Guzman sent home a memo with the school children reporting that we have lost only 100 children since 2003? Maybe he's the one with the fuzzy math!
Sharon March 29, 2012 at 03:33 PM
I felt the town manager presented a very detailed outline of what we spend and where. It was excedingly long and drawn out, but at least the tax payers can see what they are doing. I woiuld like the same detail from the BOE. I would like to request an audit of sorts to see precisely where our money goes. The budget on line is still very vague- my example last night was the alternative school funding. It is listed as about $1000, but that is no way the total cost. Details are needed to assess things properly from a tax payers position. I have asked the BOE for more details on this particular line item, was told I would get some more information, but have not gotten anything more than what was on line at this point. The BOE member did not know where those costs were listed of the top of his head. If we can get more transparency ( seems to be a popular word of late) that we may be able to juggle some things around to do more good in the schools. I also was put off by the references to many early/ late meetings that the these folks have attended. I get it. They are working hard, really hard. That is their job- volunteer, paid or elected. I do appreciated their time and efforts. But-No extra credit should be given for this- if it seems like more than you want to put in, get out. simple. Just came across as- we should be extra grateful for the job. Don't need to keep reminding everyone. So BOE how 'bout that itemized audit?
Miss Mary Mack March 29, 2012 at 03:44 PM
Guzman is a complete buffoon and it's sad he didn't go to Springfield, MA,or maybe they didn't want him. He's got to go!
Mike Pascuzzi March 29, 2012 at 07:19 PM
It seemed to me, that most who spoke at last nights meeting, have forgotten about the storms of 2011. The Fire Dept, Public Works and Human Services held this town together during some very tough times. They are the ones who deserve an increase. I support the proposed budget "AS IS"
Diane Clokey March 30, 2012 at 10:49 AM
Sharon, I think that is one of the flaws of the process. The Superintendent presents his budget to the BOE way back in January, so, by the time many of the public are engaged in the process, the BOE is down to being one of several line items for the Council and Manager to deal with. Then folks leave either annoyed b/c BOE concerns hijack a "Town" meeting or because the same level of detail was not provided for the BOE as it was for the town. It would be ideal if this presentation, closer to when people become engaged in the process, could include the same level of detail for both. I don't know if it's possible to fit all that content in to one meeting and don't know if folks would come out for two. What do you think? Oh, and a note on TALC, the BOE budget is broken down into a personnel section and a program section. I am guessing the line you refer to is the Program budget for TALC (books, materials etc) and the instructors are part of the high school staff. But you are right, there's no one page for that.
Disgusted March 30, 2012 at 01:24 PM
Funny how Robert Pagoni waited until the end to get his "last word" on the pay-to-play so no-one could respond to his blanket statement that all of the money received for pay-to-play goes to the athletes- WRONG- at the March 14th BOE meeting the question was raised as to why the fee was going up so much - one of the council members said it was helping to fund a lost grant ( really) and needed to off-set that loss to keep some "positions". ( what positions ?) What a joke- Also- Werbner was visibly getting impatient and annoyed at the residents who spoke out against the pay to play increase at the meeting and suggested these concerns be raised at a BOE meeting and that the Town Council PUBLIC budget meeting was not the forum in which to discuss this ...First of all, they WERE addressed at the March 14th BOE meeting and residents were told to bring their concerns to the March 28th meeting...hmmm...pass the buck much ?? This whole process stinks and we all need to look very closely at where the money is going- And a little side-note to our Town Manager : Residents should be able to voice their opinions at ANY public town meeting . Remember- we pay your 6 figure salary, as well as the town car you drive ( also courtesy of the taxpayers) so maybe you should be a little more accomodating when residents are concerned with something that effects their children and their income- not all of us are so well off....
Disgusted March 30, 2012 at 01:29 PM
It's a choice ? Perpetuated by economic times ? Then I guess Tolland is "special ," in that our economic times are so much harder than the other towns in CT who have substantially lower pay-to-play costs- ?? And just because the wind is blowing a certain way doesn't mean we have to cave into it-
Disgusted March 30, 2012 at 03:19 PM
D- The folks that showed up to protest the PTP never suggested that it was the "most pressing need" in the town- that is your perception because so many showed up to voice their concerns- and that is what a public hearing is for- And by the way- not that this should ever be a necessary factor in voicing an opinion- but I HAVE voted for BOE increases in the past, as did many of the parents I know who spoke about about PTP- which is exactly WHY I am speaking up now- I voted for these budgets in the past and perhaps blindly- and now I want to know exactly what my vote was spent ON.
Disgusted March 30, 2012 at 04:31 PM
Sorry to again correct you but it was indeed your misperception- and in fact mis-characterization- to say that the big turn-out regarding PTP made it seem like it was the "most pressing need of the town." We are not naive- we KNOW it is not the most pressing issue- people showed up to protest something that they felt was excessive and unfair- And as taxpayers in this town, we certainly have the right to do so. I agree that we should mobilize everyone who cares about the town to attend these public meetings and to vote- but I do not advocate voting one way or the other on any town issue- that is a personal choice and I respect that- I do kniow people who have NOT voted for the BOE budget increases but that does mean, as you stated , that people have no right to complain.
Disgusted March 30, 2012 at 07:22 PM
AGAIN...maybe you should read over your e-mails- it was YOU who told people how to vote- "stand by" the bugdet all you want, but don't knock others for what THEY believe in or criticize those who stand upto voice their opinions at PUBLIC MEETINGS. And as for your comment that AFTER the budget is passed the "BOE can figure out how to reduce the PTP..." hahaha- It's always after the fact huh ? Why can't they sit down and do it NOW ? Sorry- you have lost all credibiltywith that comment and the more you push your own opinion, the more I think you are either employed by the school system in Tolland or on the BOE yourself- Hey everyone........It's time to start paying attention to what's going on- No more "blank checks." It's time to see where the dollars $$ are going !!!!
Sharon March 30, 2012 at 08:14 PM
Once again I say we ask for an audit of the BOE. Then all these concerns can be dealt with. Doesn't the freedom of information act apply??? Anyone out there know how a town resident can ask for this properly for all to see? Hum I am feeling like calling Channel 3 to look into this- # on your side.
Diane Clokey March 30, 2012 at 08:33 PM
Sharon, the BOE budget is audited every year. What is it that you want to know that you can't find?
Sharon March 30, 2012 at 09:04 PM
Ok who does the audit? Is the outcome posted for the public to review? I want to know for every line item where the money comes from and where it goes precisely. The example I gave before: what is the total cost of the night school, how many kids are in it and is it really worth it. These kids get the same degree with less effort and time then my kids in the day school- maybe we need to reassess that whole process (of course it could be bound by state mandates etc which we can't change). Where does my money for my daughter to play volleyball go? etc What does this audit really look like, who reviews it- if it is the BOE, this wouldn't seem kosher to me. Maybe I am asking for an external audit? I am not an expert in this process of budgets and audits, just trying to help get the details.
Diane Clokey March 30, 2012 at 09:17 PM
Disgusted, I don't mean to intrude on this very polite conversation that you and D are having, but, while I think that you are right that the BOE should start looking at this now, it will be difficult for them to commit to programs until they know what their budget will be.
concerned tolland citizen March 31, 2012 at 01:20 AM
So the audit for school athletics should show exactly where every dollar is going. If you do the math from this year, the town budgeted roughly $95,000 for varsity sports, there are approximately 600 athletes at the high school with each paying $275 for a total of $165,000 + $95,000 from the budget = $260,000. In the meetings of the BOE May 27th meeting, it was stated that sports cost $259,000. So, please tell me why JV and middle school sports still had to fundraise for more money for sports. JV girls basketball alone had to fundraise close to $5000 and middle school girls basketball had to raise thousands as well. if the BOE would open the books to show exactly where all the sports money went, then it would be easier to justify the pay to play fees to all the parents.
Disgusted March 31, 2012 at 01:21 AM
Wow "D"- you are a tough one to explain things to- but for the sake of clarity, let me try just one more time... ...I never said that the dominating theme was not the pay-to-play- CLEARLY it was- I took exception with your assertion that the parents at the meeing who were opposing the ptp increase felt that it was the most important financial item in town. Your words...(are you still with me ?) I also took exception with your comment that unless people voted every year for the BOE budget, then they had no right to "complain." Again...your words. And there you have it. And it's funny how you said I was "yelling" .Oops...there's that perception thing again. I am simply voicing an opposing opinion to yours. That's not yelling, D. It's freedom of speech.
Andy Powell March 31, 2012 at 03:01 AM
Concern Tolland Citizen. The Tolland School Budget is an open document. We are a public entity. We are required to be open. We will include a section on the funding of athletics at the next Board of Education meeting. We will provide as many answers as possible. To answer a previous question, we are audited by BlumShapiro, a very well renowned Connecticut account firm. We always pass our audits.
Luther Heggs March 31, 2012 at 03:34 AM
Please do not try to interject facts and hard numbers into the budget discussions.
Luther Heggs March 31, 2012 at 03:38 AM
By that logic we should also be willing to pay for extra science, math and art students extracurricular activities to also allow them to "stand out" amongst the competition. I don't remember any checks showing up in the mail when I had to pay for band instruments and AAU sports.
Andy Powell March 31, 2012 at 03:51 AM
Luther, the problem is that those facts and hard numbers are not related to each other. We do not fund "per student", so there is no "savings" if we have fewer students. The per student calculation may change next due to the decreasing numbers.
Sharon March 31, 2012 at 10:50 PM
Andy- thanks for the info on who does the audits and that you always pass them. I wish you could have said so at the meeting. So what does that mean? I think it means that you have spent the money that was approved for the BOE as it was earmarked and if things were moved around it was still for something kosher, not dinners out or other nonsense. So this is good, but it still - correct me if I am wrong- hasn't been "audited" by the public per say. Other than the voting on ref's, we still don't get to see the details. Do we the tax payers have the right to see these details? Yes, right? So if things are all on the up and up as we expect from a town like Tolland, please let us see the details. This may serve two purposes 1- in black and white let residents see where the funds are going and 2- allow us a better understanding of why you need more funds. I also think it will allow for residents to make more informed voting choices. We as tax payers can also make our precise concerns about the what we may or may not like about the details known to the TC and BOE.
Concerned Parent April 01, 2012 at 01:42 AM
They did get a raise of $5,000 each and new vehicles. Also they are remodeling their offices again. This Town Manager needs to put the actual numbers spent and where.
Concerned Parent April 01, 2012 at 01:56 AM
Audits are fine, but they only show perhaps that there is no missing money. Not that it was shifted from one account to another to cover over expended accounts. I believe my biggest concern is the waste of taxpayers money. The Town Manager and his Staff need to keep this in mind when creating new positions and giving out big raises.
Andy Powell April 01, 2012 at 03:17 AM
Sharon, Thank you for the continued concerns. Each meeting, we have a status of the budget report by the Superintendent. There is a copy of the expenditures vs planned, and an estimated balance. The report shows the status of each cost center group. We have to vote on any transfer between accounts when the value is 20k. In terms of Audit by the public, I am not sure what you mean. The report is included in the minutes of the meeting, which are on the website. You can look them up any time you want.
Andy Powell April 01, 2012 at 03:23 AM
Concerned Parent. Each Board meeting, we have a report by the Superintendent on any necessary account transfers. They are in each of the minutes, every meeting. You can check them on the website anytime that you want. We are very concerned about wasted dollars, which one of the reasons we have gone to a spending freeze in the late fall/early winter, to make sure we have the necessary funds to complete the year.
D April 01, 2012 at 11:40 AM
Andy - one of the concerns being brought up is what the PTP fees are actually spent on. The TMS website has a chart showing the full cost of each sport, but the High School website does not seem to have any information on that. Perhaps you could post a list? From the info on TMS, it's obvious that by the BOE reinstating funding for middle school sports you have saved many parents a considerable amount, even with increasing the basic ptp fee. The same info for THS sport by sport would be helpful. Of course, ptp is still too high, but I hope you'll have adequate funds to address that later. This was a good start in evening out the costs. Thank you for all the BOE's hard work this year in creating a positive and cooperative environment with the TC and TM. It's encouraging that you, the TC and TM support each other and this budget. Hope it passes the 1st time :)
Andy Powell April 01, 2012 at 05:02 PM
D - I appreciate concern and questions. The Board is working to get a clear and concise informational meeting lined up for April 11th. I believe that we have most of the documentation that will answer most (we will try for all, but you never know what will come up!) of the questions in the meeting. The other part that I will make sure we cover will be fund raising by the teams. What is that going to? And why are we doing this if we paid a fee to play? ...are probably questions that many parents are asking.
Disgusted April 01, 2012 at 05:08 PM
Good Morning D- Well I wasnt reprimanded so I have to assume that my use of exclamation points and capital letters was acceptable. You used capitals yourself for emphasis purposes on your March 30th comment...That said, I can see that you are just very sensitive to any opinion that does not align with your own- so let me take this opportunity to apologize for my excessive use of exclamation points and flagrant use of capital letters. I am also sorry for disagreeing with you- for Pete's sake, I thought I was living in a country with Free Speech...what was I thinking...Ok so that's it for now- I just hope this reply is ok- I made sure not to use an capitals or exclamation points in the evenet that it might upset you or any other reader who may be suffering from E.S. ( exclamatory sensitivity.) Thank you so much for your time and thoughtful comments.
D April 02, 2012 at 12:19 PM
Bob Pagoni is quoted in the recent JI article as saying "We've dumped a lot of those kids out on the street..." due to the high ptp fees. With the info you're putting together, could you include the actual number of students who haven't been able to play any sports or join clubs due to high fees? Also, please include what assistance is available at TMS and THS for those who can't afford the fees? Thanks so much.
Disgusted April 02, 2012 at 12:37 PM
Asking Mr. Pagoni to provide an actual number for how many kids have been left out of sports due to high PTP is totally unrealistic and impractical- How should that be done ? Polling every family of every student who at one time was involved in athletics programs ? How long do you think that would take ? In addition, I know many parents who have said they will not be able to afford any PTP increases but they are not anxious to discuss that because it can be potentially embarrassing for many to admit- Who wants to tell their children and neighbors that their children can't participate in sports because they can't afford it ? Not something people want to announce-

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